The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have popped up in the news an awful lot as of late.
With the news that Michael Bay is rebooting the feature film franchise (and changing several key details about the canon and property we all grew up with), there has been no shortage of nerd-rage across several pop culture websites. News that the film will drop the Teenage Mutant aspect and will simply be called 'Ninja Turtles' was the first strike; since then, it has been reported that none other than Megan Fox (who previously worked with Bay on 'Transformers' and had a very public feud with the controversial director) had been cast as the Turtles' human companion, April O'Neil. Following this news has been rumors that in the feature film the turtles will be aliens from outer space, The Shredder will actually be a squid-like creature, and even more cringe-worthy aspects have come to light.
Did any of the news above irk you? Do you long for the Turtles we knew and loved in the 1980s? Well then I have some fantastic news: Nickelodeon's most recent television reboot, titled 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (with all four words intact), is doing our Turtles properly.
If you haven't yet seen an episode of the new 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' it's understandable: the series only debuted in September 2012. This month, Nickelodeon released the first DVD compilation of the show--'Rise of the Turtles'--which includes the first six episodes of the new series. Being a lifelong Turtles fan, I used the excuse of buying the DVD for my young nephews in order to get my hands on 'Rise of the Turtles' and I am happy to report: this is an excellent DVD for fans of any age.
Nickelodeon's 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is a valiant attempt at recapturing all of the warmth and excitement of the original TMNT cartoon back in the 1980s. If fans were concerned about whether or not a new series would stay true to the original subject matter, their fears should be assuaged by learning that none other than Rob Paulsen, the talented voice actor who played Raphael in the original 1987 series, has been recast in 2012 as Donatello. That's right: one of the very actors who began the craze twenty-five years ago is back on board with our Turtles. Paulsen has also lent his unique voice talents to 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and 'The Looney Tunes Show.'
So, we know that Paulsen is our Donatello; what about the other green brothers? Both Raphael and Leonardo are played by bonafide feature film stars Sean Astin (the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy) and Jason Biggs (the 'American Pie' franchise), respectively. The fourth brother, Michelangelo, is played by Greg Cipes ('Ultimate Spider-Man,' 'New Teen Titans'). Nickelodeon wasn't cutting costs when it came to bring talent aboard this series and the decision pays off.
Paulsen, Astin, Biggs and Cipes have established a lovable and hilarious interplay between one another that has firmly grounded the Turtles characters at age fifteen, returning the 'teenage' aspect to our heroes. The pilot episode of the series shows the Turtles (along with their Sensei, Splinter) celebrating their fifteenth "Mutation Day," the closest thing the brothers have to a birthday. Not only does the show use this opportunity to catch up new viewers to the origin of the ninjas, but it makes it clear that these brothers are still maturing, partway through the transition from boyhood to adulthood.
The fact that the siblings are still young, goofing off and play-fighting each other, is exactly why 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is such a success. Each of these initial six episodes are about the relationships and lessons learned between the brothers--the plotlines surrounding robots from outer space and mutated monsters are secondary to the heart and moral of each tale. The series understands that the strength of these characters, the aspect that has allowed them to live in the hearts and minds of fans for over two decades, is the clearly defined personality of each Turtle. Leonardo is the well-meaning yet overbearing leader, Donatello is the somewhat bashful bookworm, Raphael is the arrogant and brash upstart and Mikey is the dim-witted party-animal. This allows children to pick their favorite of the brothers and enjoy the chaotic interplay of these disparate personalities.
The six episodes included in 'Rise of the Turtles' also feature some excellent guest stars, as the bad guy in the episode "Turtle Temper" is voiced by comedian Lewis Black and the eponymous villain in "I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman" is played by voice acting veteran Phil Lamarr. Rounding out the supporting cast is Hoon Lee ('Banshee') as Master Splinter and Mae Whitman ('Young Justice') as April O'Neil (who is aged sixteen in this incarnation of the series).
A very smart aspect of the DVD release of 'Rise of the Turtles' is the fact that Nickelodeon seems willing to appeal to both the young and older generations of TMNT fans. The special features include a series called "The Mutation of a Scene" where a key moment in each of the six episodes is broken down, from the story-boarding process all the way to the honed, finished result. This shows off what is likely the finest animation I have ever seen on television and gives credit to the animators who work tirelessly to bring action like this to life. As for the younger fans, the DVD comes with a karaoke style music video of the new 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' theme song, so kids can learn the words and sing along each episode.
And, of course, 'Rise of the Turtles' comes with an inset-card advertising the new line of action figures for TMNT. I grabbed some of these new figures (...for the nephews... really...) and they are a massive improvement on the toys I played with for hours back in 1988.
'Rise of the Turtles' is the perfect way to introduce the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a new generation. The six episodes included in the DVD release feature the brothers' first venture out of the sewers, their first encounter with delicious pizza, and the introduction of their newest villains. The show is well-written, the animation is without peer, and even adults will catch themselves laughing at some of the dialogue:
MICHELANGELO: "Wow, Donnie, that entrance was totally sporadic!"
DONATELLO: "...That's not what that means!"
It was recently announced that Nickelodeon has upped their order of 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' through at least a third season. This means that there is hope that our beloved franchise may be able to survive the actions of Michael Bay. Fans of the old show owe it to themselves to check out 'Rise of the Turtles' and spread the TMNT love to their children, if only to keep the fun and child-friendly version of the Turtles alive in the face of the man who ruined 'Transformers.'
You can buy 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles' on Amazon for only $7.99
DVD GRADE: A